2017 Birmingham Elections

Randall Woodfin Defeats Incumbent William Bell to Become Birmingham’s Next Mayor

A night of upsets in Birmingham city government culminated in the victory of challenger Randall Woodfin over incumbent William Bell.

Woodfin topped Bell in the race by more than 7,500 votes, getting 58.94 percent of the vote compared to Bell’s 41.06 percent, according to the unofficial vote tally.

It was the end of an often contentious campaign in which Woodfin challenged the status quo. “We deserve better” was his campaign slogan.

Bell campaigned on his experience and accomplishments. But ultimately, a public dissatisfaction with Bell’s seven-year administration won out.

“Birmingham, this is our moment,” Woodfin said to a raucous crowd of supporters gathered at his campaign party.

Bell at his party in Lakeview told supporters that, regardless of the outcome, “we will continue to contribute to this great city, whether it’s in office, out of office, or in the ‘hood.’”

Talking about his loss, Bell said, “The people spoke. At the end of the day, the people choose the type of leadership that they feel is in their best interest. Obviously, they felt my opponent had a stronger message. That’s just the way it rolls.”

When Woodfin takes office, he will be at the helm of a city government much changed from the one that existed during Bell’s administration. The City Council will have to select a new leader after President Johnathan Austin lost the race for the District 5 seat to challenger Darrell O’Quinn. Councilor Kim Rafferty lost her District 2 seat to political newcomer Hunter Williams in Tuesday’s election.

However, six incumbents are returning next term after winning re-election in the first round of voting, Aug. 22.

A Change in Campaign Tactics

For some, the mayoral race served as a referendum on progressive politics’ viability in Birmingham. In a controversial Aug. 28 meeting with city employees, Bell characterized Woodfin’s candidacy as part of a nationwide insurgency against establishment Democrats.

Campaign signs line Graymont Avenue at Legion Field

“This race is not (between) William Bell and Randall Woodfin,” he said. “This race is Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party.”

Bell compared the campaign to the recent mayoral election in Jackson, Mississippi, in which progressive candidate Chokwe Lumumba claimed victory after being backed by Sanders and the national progressive group Our Revolution.

“If you don’t believe me, go look it up,” Bell said. “Now, they’re running the same tactics here in Birmingham, Alabama. They have teams coming in from all over the country to support their efforts.”

Bell’s comparisons weren’t far off. Woodfin certainly courted Sanders’ base during the election and received endorsements from both Our Revolution and Sanders himself. Sanders even issued a congratulatory tweet Tuesday night, saying that he looked forward to working with Woodfin. On the other hand, his role as the director of establishment candidate Hillary Clinton’s Alabama campaign throughout the 2016 primaries went largely unmentioned during the mayoral race.

Bell said that he ran the same type of campaign that he had run in past successful races, even though Woodfin’s big door-to-door effort was distinctly different and ultimately successful.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell at his post-election gathering. (Robert Carter)

“It speaks for itself. He’s the victor, so obviously he had a stronger message and a stronger method of delivering that message. It is what it is,” Bell said.

What’s next for the soon-to-be ex-mayor? “I’m going home and go to bed,” Bell joked, adding, “God will reveal what he has in store, and I’ll go from there.”

Robert Carter contributed to this report.